Towards Burgos and Beyond
Siete Iglesias de Trabancos to Hotel Camino Real (Palencia) 90km
This was a mixed day, but not one to be missed. We set off into a freezing cold but sunny morning after a solid breakfast at Tereros del Trabancos. Easy pedalling took us as far as Tordesillas. My bike had been playing up for a few days and my chain was shot to pieces. This was no weather to be getting tools out by the roadside and so we looked for a bike shop in Tordesillas.
We found Bicicleta Garcia Lopez, and he told me what I already knew – it was pretty serious and spare parts could be difficult to get hold of. I could have done without him laughing at my chain though!
He fitted a new chain and we had some coffee and chatted a bit about cycling, in a tortured way…his English was as good as my Spanish! He was a mad keen cyclist and pointed out a great route to Valladolid. It wasn't the quickest route, but it was a very nice ride. Thanks Garcia.
From Valladolid, the day changed somewhat. Firstly, with the help of Google maps, we ended up on the motorway. It was the first time on the motorway on a bike for me, and although it was fun, I wouldn't necessarily be in a hurry to give it another go. Some lorry drivers took exception to sharing their massive motorway with two small bikes, but one of the things about motorways is that you can't just get off when you want to.
We got off at the first possible junction and found ourselves on a canal towpath. Several kilometres later, we upgraded from the canal path to an African road; dirt, washboard, and rubble. We thought it couldn't get any worse…then it did. A nasty bunch of rain and wind landed on us. Just in case the rubble wasn't challenging us enough, we got some mud to go with it.
As we struggled over a bridge against the wind with the rain battering our eyeballs, Annette got a flat tyre on the steep drop off the bridge. She wasn't her usual cheerful self as she had a wee moment of giving way to frustration.
There was no way to fix the puncture easily in these conditions; we’d have frozen in two minutes, so I kept pumping the tyre up and limping along for 12 km until we found the Camino Real. After washing the mud off the tyre, we found another souvenir from Malawi – those wee wires again!
The Camino Real was a steal at the price and the staff were great. This is a seriously nice place, and they cater for bikes too. Of course the restaurant opened at 8 once again. There was a hint that we might get food though, so we gave it a try. It went something like this;
“So could we get chips and egg then?”
“…and steak egg and chips?”
“and would it be possible to get some beans with that?”
“great” (rubs hands excitedly)
“Yeah great…see you at eight” (exits into kitchen)
(Two cold, hungry cyclists – look dejectedly at each other as hopes were dashed)
The food was great, it arrived after eight as promised, and all was well.
We went to bed looking forward to being totally lost again for hours tomorrow.
Google maps anyone?
Hotel Camino Real (Palencia) to Villanueva de Argano 97 km
After a comfortable night and a pretty huge breakfast, we set off into a freezing cold morning with a watery sun sitting low in the sky. For the first hour or so, Google maps had us on a lovely autumnal canal towpath towards Palencia. The riding and the chat was relaxed, and time passed easily.
Palencia was a much bigger town than we had imagined, and it took us a while to figure out how to get out of there. Mostly by luck, we popped out onto some really nice quiet old highways and had a great ride to lunchtime.
The “back way” through to the main road was about 50km worth of scenic, undulating, good quality roads, with some nice climbs. At the top of the moorland, we caught our first glimpse of snow-covered hills. It reminded us of the Cairngorms in winter. We never expected to be seeing snow, at this time of year and this far south. The newspapers are full of it; they weren’t expecting it either!
At lunch, we sneakily sat on some benches in a wee garden outside an old folks home. Those guys won’t be seeing the outdoors for a while, not unless they have double cardigans and waterproof slippers; so we were doing no harm. The sky clouded over, the wind became very strong, and we struggled our way through the next 30km until we hit the big road.
Once back on the old highway, we met some more hills, which warmed us up nicely. Me especially, as I no longer have my full range of gears, and those I have are a wee bit temperamental.
After a longish descent, we arrived at the Hotel Linares very, very cold. A nice place with a workshop at the back to lock up the bikes; they have the friendliest guard dog I have ever met. I kept looking out of the back window, as I felt so sorry for him chained up outside in this cold.
If it were at all practical, I would steal him and keep him as a friend. He looks like he is in need of a bit of company.
A hot bath, followed by chips and egg (once again), and some repairs before tomorrow, took us to bedtime.
The weather forecast is looking a bit worrying!
Villanueva de Argano to Santo Domingo la Calzada
Today was the first day we have questioned what we’re doing. I have asked myself (a) is this even possible at this time of year and in these conditions? And (b) is it honestly worth it?
There are no prizes for perversity, and no rewards, other than the satisfaction that another day has been survived. But today was a low point for me in terms of sheer misery. I expected low points on this journey, but I never expected doubts. I don't usually suffer from doubts.
This morning, after the worst breakfast of the trip so far (cue general grumpiness), we fetched the bikes out of the garage they were locked in. It was 2 degrees and raining, and as I pushed my bike out I realised I had another flat tyre, another souvenir from worn out car tyres in Malawi.
I sat outside in the bitter, gloomy, damp, cold, and fixed it before setting off; already deeply chilled. It was trying to snow, but luckily for us it wasn't trying quite hard enough.
By the time we got to Burgos, we were dangerously cold; or at least I was. I was also wet through. My clothing just didn't withstand contact with the enemy, the European winter.
Unashamedly, next to the shopping trolleys inside the Mercadona, I stripped off and put on more underclothes under my waterproofs. I didn't care who was watching, I just got on with it.
We sat on the steps of the shop and ate pizza slices and cake, before setting off again towards Logrono. It rained, it blew, and it was very, very cold. My clothing seems totally inadequate once again, even doubled up. Eight years of living in the tropics has left me a little unprepared for this.
By lunchtime, we found ourselves huddled inside a bus shelter with an equally cold South Korean girl who felt that she’d had enough of being cold, and decided to get the bus.
We pressed on agonisingly slowly until we hit the major pass of the day.
Just to put it into perspective, all of these passes are higher than the highest mountains in England; many of them are higher than the highest mountains in Scotland. If you had asked me if I wanted to ride a bike across the tops of the Munros in winter, I wouldn't think of it, but here we are in northern Spain, and it’s cold. Guy Brooksbank, if you ever read this, think Upper Mustang, only wet.
Unbelievably, we dropped out of the murk, and plummeted about 600m off the other side of the pass. On the other side, it was dry…at least for now. The following windy 30 or 40 km allowed us at least to dry out, and we arrived at our billet for the night just before it started raining again.
Right now with horrible weather forecasts in front of us, we are wondering how this can work. Anybody can put up with this for a day, go home, have a hot bath, and warm their toes by the fire with a dram or two; but looking at another 50 or so days of this potentially, is a bit of a morale buster.
It is forecast to be cold and wet tomorrow again…colder…and wetter. We’ll see.
Santo Domingo la Calzada
We stayed up late last night planning the next steps, trying to take into account the weather. At breakfast we could hear rain hammering onto the skylight, by the time we had finished eating, the rain had turned to snow.
The Hostel manager, a really pleasant and helpful guy, asked us about our plans, concerned that we didn't understand the situation. He informed us that the two passes we were planning to cross were under heavy snow. This sounded serious, if we cycled up there and couldn't get either forward or back, that would be a problem, and there was no sign that the weather was going to improve.
We asked if we could stay in the hostel and think about it today, as it was still snowing. He told us he was closing the hostel to go on holiday, so that wouldn't be possible. After seeing the bleak looks exchanged between us, he relented and said he would let us stay if we promised to leave as early as possible tomorrow. Of course we agreed.
it seems rude not to post a big "Thumbs up" to Hostel Rey Pedro, and the manager. He has helped us a great deal.
He told us through Google translate, that the weather has been crazy and had become really unpredictable. He said it was unseasonably very hot two weeks ago, and now full winter had arrived very early.
He got maps out and helped us to plan alternatives, and we found a way that may allow us to catch a train through the mountains. This was at least a possible way to solve the problem.
We debated whether to take a risk on the high passes, but eventually we felt the consequences outweighed the option of a short train ride through the difficulty. After all, we still have a long way to go.
We have also decided to see if we can find some better clothing…fingers crossed!